Lionel Messi’s four-year contract with FC Barcelona is worth €555.2 million ($673.8m), according to a report.
A leaked copy of what is reportedly the contract Messi signed in November 2017 was published by Spanish newspaper El Mundo on Sunday.
If the details are correct, it is the most expensive contract ever paid to a soccer player.
It shows the 33-year-old, considered by many to be the greatest soccer player in history, earns up to $168.5 million a season. Under Spanish law, he would reportedly have to pay around half that amount in taxes.
The contract expires on June 30, when the Argentine forward could leave the club he joined aged 13 on a free transfer. Messi rocked the soccer world when he handed in a transfer request in August and it remains unclear whether he will sign a new deal with Barcelona.
The revelation comes as the club battles to contain a €1.17 billion ($1.42b) debt. With €730 million ($885.9m) due in the short term, reports in Spain have suggested the famous club, one of the world’s biggest, is on the brink of bankruptcy. Barcelona’s wage bill accounts for 74 per cent of its overall income.
In a statement, reported by BBC Sport, the club denied it was behind the leak of Messi’s contract.
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“FC Barcelona categorically denies any responsibility for the publication of this document, and will take appropriate legal action against the newspaper El Mundo, for any damage that may be caused as a result of this publication.
“FC Barcelona expresses its absolute support for Lionel Messi, especially in the face of any attempt to discredit his image, and to damage his relationship with the entity where he has worked to become the best player in the world and in football history.”
Messi, who is Barcelona’s record goalscorer, had asked to leave the club after falling out with former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu. In an interview in September, Messi said he “wanted to leave” and described the club’s management under Bartomeu as a “disaster”.
In the interview, with Goal, Messi said Bartomeu had reneged on a promise to allow him to leave on a free transfer at the end of 2019/20.
“I thought and was sure that I was free to leave, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not,” he said.
“Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered all the season.
“And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club. Now I am going to continue in the club because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the €700 million ($823m) clause, and that this is impossible.”
With Bartomeu’s resignation, Barcelona – one of four member-owned clubs in La Liga – will elect a new president on March 7. The three candidates are former Barcelona president Joan Laporta, businessman Victor Font and former club board member Toni Freixa.
All three candidates have previously expressed their desire for Messi to remain at the club should they be elected.